Sept. 15, 2008
Following is the sixth in a series of profiles on the members of the 2008 class of the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. Jack Wilkinson is catching up with each of the six members leading up to the Annual Hall of Fame Induction Dinner, which will be Friday, Sept. 19 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased by calling 404-894-6124.
By Jack Wilkinson
Their recollections flow freely and fondly, and sometimes amusingly. They liken her to other former Georgia Tech sporting greats. To Mark Price in terms of significance. To Joe Hamilton in terms of size and sizzle, style and personality.
In one respect, however, Andrea Nachtrieb is completely unique.
“There’s no question,” Shelton Collier said, “that Andrea’s the most important player ever for Georgia Tech volleyball. She was the number one player who turned the program around.”
Now the very-successful coach at Wingate University in North Carolina, Collier was the young coach of Tech’s long-dormant volleyball program in the early 1990’s who set about recruiting Nachtrieb with an evangelist’s zeal.
“I probably wrote her four to five handwritten letters a week,” Collier said. “That’s how special she was. This was my vision for her and my vision for the program. I just recruited her with an urgency and personal attention that struck her.
“I knew if we could get her, we could begin the process of becoming a Top 20 program,” he said. “I treated her as if she was the most important player in the future of our program.”
Which she was, and still remains. Now, fifteen years after first setting foot on the Flats and first setting up a teammate’s spike, Nachtrieb returns to Atlanta for her induction into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s kind of amazing,” Nachtrieb, who’ll be honored at Friday night’s banquet, said by phone from her home in Durango, Colo. “It was not something I thought about. It’s been a long time since I played.”
It’s been a dozen years since her last set piece in O’Keefe Gym, where Nachtrieb first helped transform Tech volleyball and turned O’Keefe into a madhouse. “O’Keefe was just rocking, so loud,” she said. “It was such a great atmosphere.”
Especially the time Tech upset Notre Dame. “When they were ranked number 8,” Nachtrieb said. “I remember how loud the gym was, and packed, and everyone was screaming.”
For that atmosphere, those amps, Tech could thank its setting star. “She really is who put us on the map,” said Melissa Snipes, a senior teammate when Nachtrieb came to Tech and then an assistant coach for two years. “We heard about her for nine months before she came to visit. Shelton kept saying, `Wait `til you see this girl.’ We were like, `Good God, what is she, the Second Coming?'”
At first glance, Nachtrieb looked, well, normal. Nothing special, not at 5-foot-7, undersized by today’s standards. “I remember saying, `This is who’s supposed to be The Thing for volleyball?'” Snipes said. “But as the season went on, I said, `She is.’ That fiery competitiveness is just what we needed.
“She was kind of like the Joe Hamilton of the era,” she said. “People came to watch her play. She was 5-7, and jumped around, and fired up everyone.”
“Andrea was short on stature, but had a big heart and was a great leader,” Collier said. “And she got the fans in O’Keefe excited about her charisma, her energy and her level of play. Even as a freshman, she was a very, very skilled player, and very charismatic, with a contagious smile and a lot of energy. She was able to push and lead her teammates.
“The precision of delivering a volleyball is the description of a setter,” he said. “She was very good at delivering the ball exactly where it needed to be, and deceptive, too. She had a personality and pizzazz that energized her teammates, and with a program that hadn’t established that culture yet.”
In 1990, the season before Collier arrived, Tech was 8-30 and ranked 248th nationally. His first two teams went 27-9 and 30-10. Enter Nachtrieb. “With Andrea,” he said, “in four years we got to 16th in the country.”
“The program grew up with us,” Nachtrieb said of a core group of recruits who established a top-tier program. “I had a lot of schools recruiting me, but what I really liked about Shelton was he was the only coach who was committed to all of us liking each other and enjoying playing with each other. I always played small. Shelton always made me think I could play huge; and, I could play [start] all four years.”
“I compare Andrea to Mark Price,” Collier said of Tech’s All-American point guard of the mid-1980s and Bobby Cremins’ cornerstone. “He’s the guy who joined Cremins and kind of turned around Georgia Tech basketball.”
In Nachtrieb’s first season, Tech went 25-13 and she was named to the 1993 ACC All-Freshman team. By the time she finished, Tech had gone 26-9, 29-7 and a then-best 32-8. She was twice an All-ACC first-team selection, twice named to the second team, chosen for the ACC’s 50th Anniversary volleyball team, and finished as Tech’s career assists leader and sixth in NCAA history.
More important, Tech won its first ACC regular-season and tournament titles in 1994 [“That was so huge, so fun,” she said] and repeated as regular-season champ in ’95. The Jackets, who’d never reached the NCAA Tournament, did so three times with Nachtrieb.
“We did a lot of things first at Georgia Tech,” she said. “There have been some amazing players who’ve been there since, but we did a lot of first things. It was our group of girls. I was definitely the court leader as far as directing, but we were a strong group of girls.”
Now 33 and living in her native Colorado, Nachtrieb is a middle-school math teacher, volleyball coach and an avid gardener (she had her own landscaping business for several years before going into teaching). This weekend, she’ll return to the campus where initially, “I was miserably homesick. I cried all the time. But after my freshman year, I was fine. It [going away to college] made me grow up.”
“The best decision of my life,” Nachtrieb now calls attending Georgia Tech. For Tech volleyball, the feeling is mutual.
“The current team owes Andrea a debt of gratitude for helping to get Georgia Tech off the floor and up back in those days,” Collier said. Ever since, “They’re able to go into anyone’s houses and recruit. She had to make a leap of faith, and her leap enabled us to make a jump then.
“The roots of the tree made the tree grow,” he said, “and I’m really proud of Andrea for making that happen.”